The lab phone rang, and Julie picked up. It was the night guard reporting that the pizza had arrived. "Be right down," she said, and hung up. She went around the corner and found Bugs leaning back in the rolling chair, feet propped up on the system desk, watching the colored bars dancing on the screen.
"Pizza's here, your turn," she said.
"Right," he said, "Take over." He left and Julie sat down, wondering when they would finally find this bug. Whenever they ran the test with the Marigold module, the system failed immediately. When they swapped out Marigold and put the old rev in, it ran just fine.
They were stumped. After three weeks of long nights, Julie was becoming convinced that the problem could only be in the midnight pizza.
Bugs returned, and they sat down to eat. Partway through the first slice, Julie had a thought. "What if Marigold isn't the problem?"[Brenner 2006]
Chewing a mouthload, Bugs somehow managed, "What?"
When we're stressed,
critical thinking is difficult"I mean, suppose there's a problem in the system itself, and the old rev of this module compensates somehow. The system would work with the old rev, but fail with Marigold."
Bugs stared into his paper plate, but stopped chewing. "You mean…we've wasted three weeks?"
It turned out that Julie was right. Since the system had run flawlessly for years, everyone assumed that the system itself handled the data correctly. But Marigold really did things correctly, and that made it incompatible with the rest of the system. Julie had uncovered an unrecognized assumption, which led them to incorrect conclusions.
Critical thinking is the process of drawing sound inferences based on evidence, principles, and an understanding of the world. When we're stressed, critical thinking is difficult, because so much of our energy is consumed in stress. Unrecognized assumptions are just one kind of failure of critical thinking. Here are three more examples of failures of critical thinking.
- When we want a specific outcome, and incoming information is consistent with that outcome, we tend to believe that the outcome has occurred, even if the data supports alternate explanations.
- Misunderstanding statistics
- When we notice a freakish coincidence, it can seem so unlikely that we feel that it can't be coincidence. We conclude incorrectly that correlation is evidence of connection.
- Rushing to judgment
- When we're aware that we don't have actual proof, but we're sure we're right anyway, we can believe that the proof will emerge soon enough. So we decide that our inference is the truth, and we forget that we don't have proof.
To work effectively on a complex problem, a group needs freedom from panic. When long hours and excessive stress limit our ability to think critically, the problem truly can be in the midnight pizza. Top Next Issue
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Poverty of Choice by Choice
- Sometimes our own desire not to have choices prevents us from finding creative solutions. Life
can be simpler (if less rich) when we have no choices to make. Why do we accept the same tired solutions,
and how can we tell when we're doing it?
- Selling Uphill: The Pitch
- Whether you're a CEO or a project champion, you occasionally have to persuade decision-makers who have
some kind of power over you. What do they look for? What are the key elements of an effective pitch?
What does it take to Persuade Power?
- Astonishing Successes
- When we have successes that surprise us, we do feel good, but beyond that, our reactions are sometimes
self-defeating. What happens when we experience unanticipated success, and how can we handle it better?
- Discussion Distractions: II
- Meetings are less productive than they might be, if we could learn to recognize and prevent the most
common distractions. Here is Part II of a small catalog of distractions frequently seen in meetings.
- How to Waste Time in Meetings
- Nearly everyone hates meetings. The main complaint: they're mostly a waste of time. The main cause:
us. Here's a field manual for people who want to waste even more time.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 23: Power Distance and Teams
- One of the attributes of team cultures is something called power distance, which is a measure of the overall comfort people have with inequality in the distribution of power. Power distance can determine how well a team performs when executing high-risk projects. Available here and by RSS on October 23.
- And on October 30: Power Distance and Risk
- Managing or responding to project risks is much easier when team culture encourages people to report problems and question any plans they have reason to doubt. Here are five examples that show how such encouragement helps to manage risk. Available here and by RSS on October 30.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program.
Here's a date for this program:
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio
44017: November 7,
Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute.
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio 44017: November 7, Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.